Anyone who has anxiety knows it is a big bully. Sometimes, though, anxiety gets drunk and takes on an even worse personality. Instead of just going home and passing out, anxiety turns into a full blown panic attack. If you have never had a panic attack, I'm jealous of you. It is the most scared you will ever be without actually dying. Here is how a panic attack generally works.
Completely out of nowhere, your heart starts beating on your chest like it is trying to escape and run off to the transplant factory. You become alarmed by this, and then it gets worse.
Cue the "I just ran a marathon" breathing. You pant. You can't quite catch your breath. You definitely have trouble talking to anyone who may be witnessing this.
Then, you start to feel extremely hot, not sexy hot, menopause hot flash hot. If you are wearing a sweater, jacket, robe, or any sort of second layer, you start clawing that off because you are certain you are having a heat stroke.
The nausea hits next. You get close to a trash can or toilet, usually sitting on the ground next to it because you can't use your jelly legs. You just know you are going to barf, and that makes you more panicky because who really WANTS to barf?
But you don't barf, usually, instead ice water starts pouring from your pores. It soaks your shirt, if you are still wearing one. It soaks your hair. Suddenly, you are no longer hot. Your breathing slows, and the pounding chest and marathon breathing slow to almost normal. Once it is all over, you feel really weak and a little shaky. You change your shirt and lie down if you are home.
I remember my first panic attack like it wasn't 25 years ago. I was 19 and I had joined a therapy group for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I never received counseling when I was a kid, and the guy I was dating at the time offered to pay for therapy. I guess he thought I really needed it. After doing a little research by calling different therapists, I figured out that individual therapy was really expensive, so I joined a group. It was great to sit with people who knew how I felt for real. I made friends with my group mates. One of the women in the group got really sick and had to be hospitalized. So, I visited her.
My boyfriend drove me to the hospital that day. He waited in the waiting room and I walked down the hall to her room. Everything was going OK. I asked her how she was doing, and she basically told me she was miserable but getting better. There was a lull in the conversation, so I started really looking at the tubes coming out of her. There were the usual IV tubes and needles, but there was also a feeding tube going up her nose and down her throat. For some reason, right after I noticed that, the chest pounding and nausea hit.
I told my friend that I had to go and walked out calmly. I didn't tell her what I was feeling because I didn't want to upset her. I got out the door of her room and felt dizzy and weak. I kept walking down the hall, staring at the floor, and having a conversation in my head.
Me: Just drop. Drop to the floor. There are doctors and nurses here.
Also Me: Nope. You will make it to the waiting room.
And I did. I got back to the waiting room, sat down on the floor, and started hyperventilating. I announced that I was going to puke. My boyfriend was the only person in the room, which spared me a lot of embarrassment, and he brought a trash can over to me. I kept panting and saying that I was going to die. I dry heaved a few times into the trash can. Then, in a few minutes, it all stopped and I was fine.
My second panic attack happened when I was type testing my own blood in biology lab. Why do they make students do this? I looked around the room and saw everyone's bloody fingers, and I got dizzy and nauseated. So, I went to the bathroom and had a panic attack. I never did figure out my blood type.
I had one in line at the post office when I was pregnant. I still managed to sign for a registered letter from my dickhead landlord while hyperventilating and trying not to puke. I'm certain the postal clerk thought I was on drugs. I'm glad my mom was with me and driving because I was shaky and very weak after the attack.
Since then, anxiety has attacked me at random times, all over the place. I've been attacked on planes, at the store, and a lot of times just sitting around at home. They seem to happen out of nowhere for the most part. I'm a nervous flyer, so I can kind of understand why they happen on planes, but I don't get why they happen when I'm sitting on the couch.
Other than daily anxiety meds, which make me a wee bit too foggy for my comfort level, I wasn't sure what to do about these attacks. Amy Wainright read my Anxiety the Brain Bully piece and reached out to me with an offer to try her Anxiety Relief video course. Overall, I found this video series to be very helpful. Amy's soothing tone, and repetition of the steps for each activity really helped. Normally, I'm not a big fan of video courses. I find I don't have the attention span for them as I am more of a reader than a watcher. This course held my attention, though.
The breathing techniques were helpful. They helped me release tense muscles that I did not know were tense. Heck, I didn't know they existed. Amy's Four Step Protocol could be helpful as it takes the focus off of an impending panic attack. During this part of the video, Amy tells the viewer to "accept the feeling" of anxiety. I can see how this could work because getting anxious about anxiety often makes things worse. Amy's techniques are great for people who don't want to take pills regularly.
I haven't had a panic attack since watching the videos, so I haven't had a chance to use the breathing during an attack. I'm eager to see how it works. If you have anxiety and panic attacks, what do you do to alleviate them? Have you found a medication or natural technique that helps? Share it with me in the comment section. I'm always up for finding new ways to beat this invisible bully that lives in my brain.
Lisa R. Petty is a former stand-up comedian who decided she would rather just write funny stuff than deal with drunk people touching her after shows. When she is not cracking inappropriate jokes, Lisa is an online English professor. You can read more of her snarkasm on Petty Thoughts. If you like humor and cat pictures, you can follow Lisa on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest. Lisa recently published Petty Thoughts, a humor anthology based on her blog.